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The nature of a unbalanced balance.

When I started this blog a few years ago, I had a hard time coming up with a title.   It was during the eye of my anxiety storm, a period in my life when I felt emotionally unbalanced and perhaps a little frail.  And so the idea of a playing on the word “unbalanced” life appealed to me.  Since then, my life has progressed a bit beyond the panic attacks (though I have accepted that anxiety will always be a part of my life) and into a new chapter of frantic parenting and general exhaustion.  The unbalanced nature of my life is now something entirely new.  That is to say: it’s not the anxiety that is kicking my ass anymore – it’s the constant struggle of my work/life/family balance.  It’s the elephant in the room each time Matt and I discuss who goes to work and who doesn’t.  It’s the age old, I-can’t-believe-we-are-still-discussing-this conversation of working moms everywhere: how come I work double duty?

When what has been dubbed “second wave” feminism found its wings in the 70s, the idea of “equal pay” and working moms was just being born.  The gains we have seen in the last 30 years surrounding the discourse of mothering and working have been substantial: it isn’t deemed taboo anymore to suggest a woman can have a career AND a family.  And that’s no small feat.  Changing the general attitudes about women who work outside the home was certainly a win for feminism

But what we all soon discovered was that while it’s fine for mama to work from 9-5, she continues to come home to her second job each night.  Her second job that requires thankless invisible hours of work.   And I’m not just talking basic chores here, like laundry and dishes and bedtime stories and baths.  It’s the un-categorized work of searches for childcare, planning family outings, figuring out who is staying home when the baby is sick, sorting through the mail, making sure my 5 year old has a lunch for camp the next day, budgeting the family finances, buying presents for birthday parties, organizing play dates, etc etc. 

And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding.  I’m a card carrying b-feeder, it’s true.  But sweet Jesus, do I get frustrated with the fact that it’s another one of my responsibilities.  It’s something else only I can do.   I get frustrated when certain people say “oh, I think he’s hungry!” in that sing-song voice that tells me it’s my time to take over again.  And all I can think sometimes is “gee, that’s convenient for you, isn’t it?”

I have a great partner in parenting.  Matt is hands down, a hands-on parent.  Who is involved in the management of our household in more ways than many fathers and husbands are.  But while I am thankful for my team member, I still l feel like I’m the last one running in the relay race. The one who has to bring it all home for the team, and make up for any lost time.   And it’s not even Matt’s fault, really.  It’s both of us.  When Alice is sick, we BOTH assume that I would be the one who stays home.  When birthday party invites are given to Alice, it’s me who physically takes the invite to file away in my brain.  It’s my hand that reaches out first.  I need to hold back more, to let him hold out his hand perhaps.

When Matt and I were first living together, I was a fast and furious feminist card-carrying member.  I was fresh out of Women’s Studies and tutorials about creating equal spaces for women.  And so, when the reality of our domestic life slapped me in the face, (he never cleaned up, nor did his laundry back then), I did what I assumed was the logical thing:  I handed him an invoice.  For domestic work hours rendered while co-habiting.  And my argument was that if we were going to start sharing our money (and that was just around the corner), then I should receive a larger portion of what we called “free” money each week.  I was obviously doing more work, and so if there was a profit coming home it should go to me.

Of course, this was before I learned the fragile nuances of being in a relationship, and how best to communicate with your partner.  We had some wicked fights back then about who did what, and why I was pissed off that the the kitchen was a holy mess.  Again. 

Fast forward to current days, and we are much more of a partnership.  We respect what each other brings to the team, and the obvious domestic duties are far more equitable.  But it’s those invisible tasks that I mentioned before that drive me round the bend.   Why have I backed myself into this corner?  How have I changed my own attitudes of what was expected over the years?  Why is it my job that comes second when time is an issue?

I love my family, but GOD I need a break.


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